Dwight Fryer


Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
November 4, 2008

Q.    Who is Dwight Fryer?

A.   Dwight Fryer is an author, speaker, business man and Christian preacher. I am a country boy who moved to the city and love having my feet in both worlds. I am a story teller who writes and my job as a writer is to take my readers to the place and time of my stories to experience the socio-economics of these places and times. I am blessed to be alive. I survived colon cancer ten years ago in October 198 and am an advocate for children’s health. My wife and I lost our youngest daughter Adrienne to meningitis in 2001. She was sixteen and I encourage persons to consult with their medical professionals on if immunization against meningococcal disease via a drug called Menactra is right for them.

Visit the website for the National Meningitis Association (www.nmaus.org/) for more info on meningococcal disease, its causes and prevention methods.

Q.    What inspired you to write the novel THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD?

A.   It was a legacy story that I needed to tell at a point in my life when I needed to have fun and achieve goals again. It has helped many others connect with their roots and also learn how things were in the past during American Apartheid, the Jim Crow Era.

Also, I really wanted to show readers how to make great barbeque like we did in the book (J). My stories are always set in actual geography with real historical facts and persons peppered into the fictional tales of the characters of the novel. Quito Road and Lucy Tennessee are real communities just north of Memphis. My wife and I had dinner in Lucy this past Friday night.

I have always been a story teller and it is still about the story FIRST for me--it must be compelling. I was in my early thirties and in graduate school. One of my professors liked an economics paper that I wrote about a drug dealer who had cornered one third of the cocaine market in Washington D.C. I wrote this econ paper entitled "Incentives Matter" from the standpoint of moral arguments aside a drug dealer and the people that know that they're selling drugs and the people that help them sell drugs and even their customers perform economic thinking. And, as I moved forward through the years, I thought about the similarities between selling crack-cocaine and illegal white lightning whiskey. And that's where the idea for THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD originated.

I see huge similaritites in moonshine and the sale of illicit drugs today. The glaring similarities include primary ingredients from plant materials, easily learned condensation based manufacturing processes, violence stemming from a strong economic model and the resulting struggle over property rights, secrecy accompanied by community knowledge, strong criminal penalties, and surprisingly similar addiction rates.

The professor gave me an A for a grade and said I should be published. That was the seed that began my odyssey from there to where I stand today with my literary career.

If people don't understand our history, then we run the risk of repeating it. So today, there are many things that our children need to understand. I really think that we need to remember what has gone on in the past so that — not to pull anybody down or be combative about it or anything like that, or to bring up or open up old wounds — just the fact that we need to know our history. We must understand from whence we've come so therefore no one can ever devalue us. If we understand how deep and difficult the struggle was of our ancestors and that we, all people, come from the best of the best, as one of the chapters of my second novel, THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND, is titled. All of us did come from the best of the best. It took a great deal to go through what Americans did to get to this country and then make the huge contributions. People need to understand that. Black, white, or of any persuasion, they need to know all of history. It's not just Black history, it's our history, and that's the way I tell these stories.

Historical fiction is such an interest to me because I see the way it plays out in our lives today. When I see a young woman today that may have children at too young of a age, I think of a slave girl that was required to do so when she was 13 or 14 because from the moment that child drew breath it was worth $200.00 to $250.00 on its master's balance sheet. I watch the struggles of the coal miner today and remember their ancestors and the many lives lost on this continent, in Europe and throughout the world searching for this fuel source. I see these impacts across those centuries today in our communities and that is why I share these historical stories with tentacles that extend into today. I also see the men that, like Gillam Hale in my book who was ripped from his family against his will, but too often if they couldn't survive being ripped away like that, they couldn't make it. So today, I think men leaving the home has become a bad habit because of those things that happened in that era. So I like to tell these stories because I think the modern reader needs to think about the similarities in what we're living today.

Also, some of them are just fun. It's just fun to sit around and think about the old times when they were cooking in big, black pots, and making shrimp and grits, and hoppin' John, which is basically black-eyed peas with some form of hog in it served over rice to celebrate New Year’s Day.

I am answering these questions on November 4, 2008, as Barack Obama sweeps toward the presidency of the United States of America. I think about the struggle and how far we've come and yet how much farther we still need to go. We've made a great deal of progress in our society, but there's still much work that needs to be done.

Q.   Would you give the readers a brief description of THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD?

A.   In THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD, a religious man teaches his only son to make illegal white lightning whiskey in 1932 Lucy, Tennessee near Memphis. The novel's main theme is "the worst things wrong with most of us were planted by those who love us the best." Making white lightning just gets in your bones," Papa Gill Erby (the son of Gillam Hale by Rena Erby) told his only boy, Son Erby, during their first trip to a whiskey still. That illicit knowledge transformed Son from pure and innocent to cunning and calculating.

The economic and emotional common ground of Prohibition-era illegal whiskey and cross-race relationships create the story's tension.

Q.    How did you come about Chess’ character?

A.   Chess Gordon is a leader in the Lucy and Quito Road community in THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD. I wanted to explore the conflict that occurs when the goals of icons do not agree with those of their constituents. Chess was in it for himself and his knowledge, savvy and instincts were merely the wool for this “wolf-not-in-sheep’s clothing.”

Q.    How did you come about Chess’ and Birdie Mae’s secret surrounding Amanda?

A.   Amanda’s story was part of my original outline and I wanted to explore the dark secrets of a young adult, handed down from both sides of her family. It was fun exploring how this grew this character and how she and the others around her reacted as the details unfolded across the chapters and the years in THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD. It was fun looking into this young and vibrant women’s life.

Q.    How did you come about Chess’ and Birdie Mae’s secret surrounding Baby Sister?

A.   The Baby Sister story happened organically. It was Mama Birdie Mae’s idea and she told me one morning just before sunrise when I was telling her story in this novel. She said, “Dwight, tell these folks about what me and Chess Gordon did back in the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1878 that is still a blessing and a curse on my family today.” That character blew me away that cool morning and she does every time I revisit her life. It reminds me of all the great matriarchs in our families.

Q.    Is there a sequel to THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD?

A.   My second novel, THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND, is a prequel to THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD. This book examines the life of Gillam Hale, an African American born to free parents in the 1820s in Cumberland, Maryland. His life was untouched by slavery until his African Methodist Episcopal preacher father took him on a trip to minister to the Virginia slaves. Gillam wants beautiful Queen Esther from the moment he sees her, but the only way to purchase her is by distilling illicit whiskey against his family's advice. Though Gillam achieves his aim, his talent for making fine whiskey earns the wrath of jealous white neighbors who kidnap Gillam's family and scatter them to plantations throughout the South.

After the Civil War, Gillam Hale could not find a trace of his wife or five children. He eventually started a second family and his son in that relationship is Papa Gill from my first book, THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD. In this prequel, THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND, Gillam finds out what Rena Erby, the woman he has lived with for twenty-five years, never wanted him to know-his wife Queen Esther was on Edisto Island near Charleston in the Carolina Lowcountry (they spell it as one word near Charleston). Gillam left his second family to search for the first. The novel's main theme is "bent knees straighten crooked deeds." That's how African American men learned to leave. They were forced to at first and later it became a bad habit.

Q.   How long have you been writing?

A.    I began writing in 1998 after talking about the story for THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD for years. I had just lost my job to corporate downsizing when the price of oil dropped to $10 per barrel and the oil company where I worked downsized. Two days later I found out I had colon cancer. The birth of my first novel began after I began chemotherapy and continued as therapy after my daughter died. I share these stories to give persons who suffer a hope to keep dreaming and moving forward, despite what life may bring.

Q.   Are you currently working on another novel?

A.   My third novel is called THE OILS BELOW OUACHITA RIDGE and is set in the oil boomtown of El Dorado, Arkansas in 1939 through 1941 as the U. S. and the rest of the world speed toward World War II. It is about adults who were orphans in this decadent black gold rush town in the first oil boom in 1921 and how they made their way despite the odds. The primary character is an African American named Maine Byers. His momma, Miss Omigga (spelled Omega, but you know how Southern pronunciations go) named him Maine so the white folks could not easily call him boy.

Maine suffered from Vitiligo, a condition that stops the skin from producing pigmentation. It is what some say caused the initial change in Michael Jackson’s skin color. Maine ended up in El Dorado, Arkansas, a site named "The Gilded One" by the Spanish conquistadors. This name came from the gold those explorers expected to find at that location. But, the gold at El Dorado came hundreds of years later in 1921 when light sweet crude oil was discovered with the drilling technology available in that day. El Dorado's population exploded from 5,000 to 35,000 persons in six months...every challenge, issue, and graft that comes with any boomtown arrived with the new citizens. Inflation, murder, prostitution, shortages, theft, and corruption became routine in a formerly peaceful Arkansan town where the Mayhaw Tree festival occurred each Spring.

Maine Byers, a colored boy who needed to earn his living in the fields of El Dorado, could not stand the bright rays of the sun, a Vitiligo side effect. But, near the oil rigs at El Dorado, where the test well soils sometimes tasted of light sweet crude, orphaned Maine Byers found his way. The book’s them is “love and forgiveness lubricate the soul.”

Q.    What message would like readers to receive from reading THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD?

A.   We all must be careful of what we sow and what has been planted in, around or near us. Each person does have a crop in our “field of life.” In THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD, Papa Gill Erby was a very good man, but he still showed his only boy, Son, how to make illegal whiskey. Is there really any difference in making moonshine and crack cocaine?

We reap what we sow.